The 15 students of iGEM Stockholm have spent most of 2017 researching bacteria, raising money, talking to biotech companies, designing logos, collaborating, organising seminars and much more. After 10 months of hard (but fun!) work, they finally got to reap the reward at the final conference in Boston where they were awarded a gold medal for an excellent research project and were nominated for Best Entrepreneurship.
Story by: Adele Kastensson & Larsen Vornholz
What is the iGEM competition?
The international Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition is the world’s biggest competition in synthetic biology, initiated at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2003. This year, over 300 teams from across the globe tried to solve a real-world issue using synthetic biology and hopefully win a gold medal.
At the end of our IGEM journey, we would find our designers pipetting in the lab & our scientists designing presentations in a non-academic fashion
The competition is divided into tracks including therapeutics, diagnostics, software, hardware, art and the environment. In November, the iGEM teams flew to Boston to showcase their projects at the final conference, known as the Giant Jamboree. Two weeks prior to the Jamboree, each team had to finalise their project’s documentation on a “Wiki” page, a standardised template given by iGEM. It contains the results, achievements and information about the team and the project. On the basis of the wiki, the judges evaluate the projects based on criteria such as innovation, creativity, feasibility and impact.
The Giant Jamboree in Boston
The Giant Jamboree is a four-day conference in which the teams showcase and promote their project through a 20 minute oral presentation and a scientific poster. The last day was reserved for the highly anticipated final awards ceremony.
When we arrived to register for the Giant Jamboree and saw the 5,400 other participants, we were able to truly appreciate the magnitude of iGEM. Gathering students from all over the world in one place, the Giant Jamboree was a place where inspiration was both given and taken. It was wonderful to finally get to see what everyone else had been up to, both inside and outside of the lab.
(…)as many as 250 people found their way to our presentation & that our live-stream reached 2,700 viewers
Our project – to engineer a lung probiotic to degrade thick mucus in the airways – stood out in its futuristic approach. But no two ideas were alike, with projects ranging from improved synthetic biology techniques to speaking with plants.
Trying to decide which of the 313 project presentations to attend at the Jamboree proved to be a challenging task, sowe were extremely happy to see that as many as 250 people found their way to our presentation and that our live-stream reached 2,700 viewers. We also enjoyed high traffic at our poster where we had not only the opportunity to present our project in more detail, but also very rewarding and lively discussions with fellow iGEM presenters, supervisors, judges and business representatives. Many acknowledged that they had been following our project for quite a while and came to our presentation because they were eager to see what we had accomplished.
The Giant Jamboree was a place to inspire & to be inspired in. It was wonderful to finally get to see what everyone else had been up to both inside & outside the lab
What did iGEM Stockholm accomplish?
Our project was well-received by both judges and other iGEM presenters, and we were pleased to earn a gold medal for a well-executed project. The medals are used to rate the quality of the teams’ research, collaboration, public engagement and documentation. With higher medal value, the requirements became more difficult and more comprehensive. To earn bronze, teams needed to register and meet the basic requirements, while for silver, teams had to collaborate and demonstrate that the newly designed BioBrick (genetic element) of their project worked. The gold medal was awarded to teams who had met the requirements for bronze and silver, but were also able to model parts of their project, incorporate its social impact and most importantly that the project worked as expected. In addition to receiving the gold medal, we were also ecstatic to obtain a nomination for “Best Entrepreneurship”, which put us in the top three teams for this category. We could not have accomplished what we did without our wonderful supporters. We are grateful for our sponsors, supervisors, advisors, instructors, volunteers and, of course, our friends and families who have been so supportive.
Although receiving awards and medals is certainly inspiring and a fun aspect of the competition, we brought something back from Boston which is of more worth than any prize. As one of our team members put it, “iGEM builds character – but more importantly, it brings people together.”
Democratic Biology – science for everyone
As mentioned in the last Medicor issue (#3 2017) iGEM Stockholm ran a campaign called “Democratic Biology” with the goal of making biology available not just to scientists, but to everyone. We succeed in targeting many different social groups by organizing seminars and debates about synthetic biology and participating as exhibitors in different public events.
While running our “Democratic Biology” campaign for the public, we realised that we were simultaneously running a democratic campaign within our own team, in which we shared our collective knowledge and expertise. At the end of our iGEM journey, we would, for example, find our designers pipetting in the lab and our scientists designing presentations in a non-academic fashion.
We all share the view that one of the best things about iGEM Stockholm is its diversity. In representing 11 different nationalities and 7 different study fields, we learned so much from each other, both inside and outside of the lab, obtaining knowledge we otherwise would have never acquired.
iGEM Stockholm 2018
With iGEM Stockholm 2017 being the 3rd iGEM Stockholm generation in the competition, we celebrate the continuation of a golden success story. To sustain the unique opportunity for highly motivated students to compete with top-ranked universities across the globe , the iGEM Stockholm alumni association (SGEM) organises the recruitment of the next iGEM Stockholm team. We will be excited to see the iGEM Stockholm team of 2018 start off the next season this coming January..